Amanda ParkerMajor: Political Science
Hometown: Lowell, IN
I've now been in Ho Chi Minh City for about 5 weeks. I'm interning in the Consular section of the Consulate (as opposed to the economic, political, or public affairs sections). The US has a very busy Consulate in general here; this is one of the few countries where the US Consulate is larger than our embassy (which is based in Hanoi here).
I've mostly been assisting with non-immigrant (and some immigrant) visa interviews, which consist of asking the applicant basic questions about their lives in Vietnam, looking at any relevant documents they present to us, and assessing whether or not they should be granted a visa. We have a very high volume of visa applications, so things are always very busy in the office. Our post is one which has a very high fraud rate, so adjudicating visas here is sometimes very difficult.
I've also been going out into the city for site investigations of immigrant visa applicants' homes with our Fraud Prevention Unit. Basically, if there is an immigrant visa case where it seems that something fraudulent is going on (like a sham marriage or sham divorce) in order to gain US immigration benefits, it is referred to FPU. FPU then goes unannounced to the applicant's home to investigate (i.e. looking for evidence of whether the applicant is married/divorced/the child of so-and-so as they have claimed). There always must be an American with the investigating officer, who is always one of the Vietnamese employees at the Consulate. Many of the officers are too busy with interviews to volunteer their whole day to accompany FPU on site visits, it works out perfectly for both them and me (since I get to go out into different neighborhoods of the city, to applicants' homes and see how they live, etc.).
Helping out with these two consular functions has been very invaluable. I have gained an idea of the sociological make-up of Vietnam right now, as far as the kinds of jobs people have, their income, their relations with the Vietnamese community in America, what conditions they live in within the city, and so on.
Besides those two major things, I've also assisted the Citizen Services section by helping to compile statistics on American citizens in Vietnam, and have contacted other embassies such as Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and the UK for like information. In the next few weeks, I also plan on going to a few other consulates (probably Canada, Germany, and Singapore) in order to see how they operate. I'll probably do a short stint in the political office as well just to get a better idea of what they do and since there's much going on with the political situation in Vietnam right now.
I've also been able to travel around Vietnam a bit. I've been to Hanoi in the north, Phan Thiet which is a small town on the coast (where I stayed in an uber-cheap resort on the beach!), the Mekong Delta in the south, the main Cao Dai (an interesting religion which is basically a fuse of many other religions) temple, and the Cu Chi Tunnels (which are tunnels and the area used by Communist guerrillas against the Americans during the Vietnam War [or "the American War" if you're in Vietnam] and which I highly recommend to anyone coming to Vietnam). I think getting out of the city is very important, not only for recreation but to see how people outside of the city live - it's very different. I plan on going to Laos and Cambodia before leaving Southeast Asia, and possibly Thailand as well.
Amanda is standing in front of the Ngoc Son Temple which is located on an island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.
So all in all, I've been having an extremely interesting time here. I'm eating tons of fruit that I never knew existed, as well as everything from French cuisine to Vietnamese curry. I've yet to try the snake, but it's on my To Do List. Everyone I work with is so nice - I work with many Vietnamese people who are now good friends as well as American Foreign Service Officers who have worked everywhere in the world and have been so willing to help give me a unique experience here. I'm definitely thinking about a career in the Foreign Service, now more than before, and so this has been an all around great opportunity.